2016 in architecture – a review

Last year was one of change and innovation in architecture in the UK and the rest of the world. Here are some of the developments that caught our eye:



Some of the best new housing developments in 2016 have been for local authorities, particularly in London. These include Alison Brook’s Ely Court in the London borough of Brent and projects in Camden and Hackney. These developments are not large, which could indicate to local councils that some of the best housing projects can come from small developments.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) gave its House of The Year award to Murphy House in Edinburgh. Designed by Richard Murphy, the house was built on a half-acre garden and features an indented ashlar base, a striking cornice, string courses and a dramatic sloping roof.

Another innovative project is Walmer Yard, a development of four houses in West London designed by Peter Salter. The houses took 13 years to build at a cost of £22m. Rowan Moore, writing in The Observer, said:

“The project takes as far as it can the ideas that architecture might be sensual and bodily, and that its poetry lies in relationships between the minerals and spaces of buildings and the lives they contain.”

The Walmer Yard project cannot be described as affordable housing, but for a less costly house, the RIBA Stephen Lawrence Prize for projects with a budget under £1m went to the House of Trace by Tsuruta Architects. This has been described as a “delightful rethink of the terraced houses extension” and a “play between the old and new.”


Thames Garden Bridge in London, though not yet built, became perhaps the most controversial bridge of 2016. Originally a vision of the actress Joanna Lumley, it has attracted heated debate from both its supporters and critics.

In central China, what is claimed to be the world’s highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge was opened in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province. At 430 metres long, it is paved with 99 glass panels. It is not for people afraid of heights as it allows unrestricted views to a long drop below. In order to demonstrate that the bridge is safe, a panel was beaten with sledgehammers, and then a car-full of people was driven across it.


The Newport Street Gallery won the 2016 RIBA Stirling Prize for Britain’s best new building. Designed by architects Caruso St John, the gallery is a conversion of three Victorian industrial buildings in Vauxhall, London. It was built to house the artist Damien Hirst’s private art collection.

The buildings feature a hard pale red brick finish and a huge illuminated LED panel.

The other notable gallery building was the extension to Tate Modern designed by Herzog & Meuron. Not all the critics loved this building, but Laura Cumming, The Observer’s art critic, admired it while recognising its flaws. She summed up her view as:

“If Tate Modern’s extension could be accused of having too much architecture, it is architecture that, once found, you wouldn’t want to lose.”

Another striking exhibition space was the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This was designed by a team of architects including Britain’s David Adjaye. Truncated pyramids form a triple-decker structure designed to resemble the headpieces found on West African sculptures.


The UTEC building in Peru won the RIBA International Prize. This was designed by the Irish firm Grafton Architects. The RIBA jury said:

“UTEC is an exceptional example of civil architecture – a building designed with people at its heart. Grafton Architects have created a new way to think about a university campus, with a distinctive ‘vertical campus’ structure responding to the temperate climatic conditions and referencing Peru’s terrain and heritage.”

The Biosciences Research Building in Galway, Ireland was chosen as the number one building for sustainable architecture and ecological design by the American Institute of Architects and the Committee on the Environment. The building locates low-load spaces on its perimeter to take advantage of the natural light. The project uses natural ventilation, which allows 45% of the building to operate without mechanical ventilation. The judges of the sustainable architecture award described the project as having “an extremely simple, yet radical approach”.


Shopping malls do not usually have a reputation for innovative architecture. One exception in 2016 is the renovation of the Victoria Gate arcade in Leeds. The development features a John Lewis store, which combines a neo-Victorian ornamental look with modern digital technology used to transform drawings into complex three-dimensional building modules to create diamond shaped grids.


The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia was named Office Building of the Year by the British Council for Offices. It was praised by the judges for its sustainable and low carbon footprint design.

The regions

There have been many notable architecture projects outside of London. In Manchester, the arts complex Home was awarded the RIBA North West Award.

The Brynmor Jones Library in Hull, designed by Sheppard Robson, brings together art deco and brutalism in one striking building.

In Wales, Burry Port Community School by architects Architype is an example of how a high-quality learning environment can be created through the collaboration of a local authority and architects. This striking school building was built using sustainable architecture.

Scotland celebrated its buildings with a yearlong Festival of Architecture celebration. The festival featured exhibitions and events to showcase Scotland’s architectural design and creativity.

2017 and beyond

Without doubt, 2016 was a notable year for architecture, and 2017 promises to be another exciting one. It could be driven by developments in technology, including more use of 3D printed components. Artificial intelligence and robotics may be increasingly used in architecture in 2017 and beyond. AI-driven CAD software can help design buildings, and robots could be used as part of the constriction process.

Last year also saw a focus on sustainable and environmentally friendly design applied to buildings, and this could be increasingly important in 2017.

Posted by Mark
January 12, 2017

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